Mutiny and Murder on the West Coast
AN ARTICLE FROM OUR FRIENDS AT HAVE A GO NEWS
The Dutch Mariners…Batavia Heads for Troubled Times…
You’ll recall from last month that Corneilsz and Jacobsz had enlisted the support of a small number of the men aboard Batavia to hatch an incident that would dramatically impact life aboard the ship.
The chosen ‘incident’ involved a physical assault on one of the female passengers, Lucretia van den Mylen, who was travelling to the Indies to meet up with her husband, a senior employee with the VOC in Batavia.
As the story goes Lucretia was of high social standing and this provoked resentment with Jacobz, not least because she had rejected his advances. According to the narrative...
“In mid-ocean Lucretia was assaulted by masked men who proceeded to hang her overboard by her feet whilst indecently maltreating her body”.
The hope of the conspirators was that Pelsaert would be so enraged that he would dish out severe punishment to those involved in the assault, which would in turn see more of the crew challenging the authority of the captain. Pelsaert failed to act and so on this occasion a mutiny could not play out.
And so the voyage to the Indies continued on until…
The sounds of waves breaking in close proximity are not those that one wants to hear when sailing a square rig ship, for by the time the waves are discernible it is too late!
And so it was on June 4, 1629 that Batavia collided viciously onto Morning Reef and in doing so came to a shuddering halt. Imagine if you can the fear and panic that would have resulted. Waves were still thundering into the now stranded vessel, water was beginning to penetrate the damaged hull and they were still a good thousand miles from their destination…and the only possible source of help.
Yet it could also have been such a different outcome.
Morning Island where Batavia ran aground is part of the Houtman Abrolhos island group that lies just 30 miles off the coast of what was known as Eendrachtsland. If Batavia had been sailing a mere 2 miles further east of her collision course and in a northerly direction she would have been in good navigable water and history as we know it would have been quite different!
Back aboard Batavia now, a sense of urgency existed. The continual surge of the waves and the jagged reef upon which she rested were tearing the ship apart. Pelsaert observed two islands nearby that appeared to offer good sanctuary for those aboard, and so began the slow process of evacuation, using the ship’s yawl and a small skiff.
Twenty four hours later those who had survived the ordeal had been relocated to the two adjoining islands. Sadly though some sixty people did not make it with many believed lost as they were trapped below deck and drowned as the hull progressively flooded.
A tragedy indeed…but worse was to follow…
See you next month when the tale of Batavia shall continue.
Great South Land by Rob Mundle
WA Maritime Museum